The first time I heard about chef André Chiang, 江振誠, was from an article in The New York Times in early 2011. Chiang's eponymous restaurant was one of the ten restaurants deemed by the article as "Worth a Plane Ride." Intrigued, I read more about him on the web and found out he was actually born in Taiwan and later spent fourteen years in France training with some of the best chefs: Pierre Gagnaire, Joël Robuchon, Jacques and Laurent Pourcels, Michel Troigros, and Pascal Barbot. He opened his own restaurant in Singapore in late 2010 and quickly garnered many accolades.
The opportunity to go to Restaurant Andre came in 2012. With a week-long Chinese New Year holiday in Taiwan, our family decided to spend a few days in Singapore. Once the plane tickets were purchased three weeks in advance, I emailed Restaurant Andre to ask for a reservation for dinner for two. The restaurant manager Stepan Marhoul responded promptly and asked for a credit card number to secure the reservation. After faxing the required information, my reservation was set and Stepan said he would personally welcome us at the restaurant.
Restaurant Andre is located on 41 Bukit Pasoh Road near the Chinatown. Housed in a refurbished shophouse and setback slightly from the street wall, the restaurant is actually quite small and seats only 30 diners. My wife, Maria, and I were greeted by a hostess outside the door and led to our table in the main room on the second floor. This is an intimate room with only 5 tables that seat around 12 diners. On one side of the room is a wall paper of trees, while the opposite side consisted of dark back-painted glass with white wall trims. The sheep sculptures are actually used for ladies' handbags. On the ceiling are two beautiful white chandeliers by Jason Miller. The carpeted room is quite comfortable and the small scale feels more like a home than a restaurant.
After we sat down, Stepan came to greet us and to explain the concept behind the cuisine. There are no menus to choose from and the S$288 set dinner is based on the chef's Octaphilosophy, which is essentially eight savory dishes based on eight themes: Pure, Salt, Artisan, South, Texture, Unique, Memory, and Terroir. Normally, I don't take pictures when I am at a restaurant, but since the menu didn't contain descriptions of the dishes, I made an exception and snapped away with my iPhone.
The dinner started with a number of amuse-bouches, snackings as Stepan called them, and all of them are somewhat playful: a box of edible "dirt" made from chocolate and garlic, two dimensional mushroom chip, popcorn, tuna tartare wrapped inside paper, and chicken skin with marsala flavor. This was a fun way to start the meal and also a display of the range of techniques.
The first course of the Octaphilosophy was Pure. Stepan explained to us that this dish had no seasoning and cooking. The ingredients - mussels, shrimp and cold pressed zucchini juice - were meant to speak for themselves. The dish was light and with good and clean flavors; a very elegant way to start a meal.
The second course was Salt, an oyster draped with seaweed and paired with an apple foam. The brunoise of apples make for a nice decoration on the plate.
The third dish, Artisan, celebrates the farmers, in this case with a corn grown outside of the City of Taipei. The corn was just simply charcoal grilled which added a slight smoky taste to the natural sweetness. The serving plate was designed and made by the chef.
The next course, South, refers to the time the Chef spent in the southern France. This was probably my favorite dish of the night, which actually came in two parts: a salad on the left and a seafood risotto on the right. The vegetables were fresh and flavorful and the risotto was well executed.
The fifth course, Texture, was the most playful and deceptive dish of the night. Stepan described the dish a "risotto", except the creamy white "rice" at the bottom is actually made of diced squid. The black chip on the top was a charred vegetable and rice cracker that didn't use any squid ink. This was served with a cauliflower puree and some parmesan cheese dusted at the bottom.
Stepan told us the seventh course, Memory, is a dish that chef André has been serving for over fourteen years: a warm foie gras mousse topped with black truffle jelly. After eating the dish I can understand why his regular customers wouldn't let him take it off the menu. The dish was delicious with great texture and flavors.
The last savory course, Terroir, was a lamb which was cooked perfectly and served with squash puree and Chinese artichokes.
Afterwards, three types of cheeses from Bernard Antony were served with jam, crackers and biscuits. All the components were nice and it was a pleasure to be served some cheese after the savory courses.
A pre-dessert followed the cheese course, and then came the dessert, chocolate in many different forms and textures. This was a highly enjoyable dish. The chocolate dome in the front actually contains runny chocolate inside.
After dessert we were served a plate of mignardises: mini-madeleines, pâtes de fruits, marshmallow, and popcorn that echoed the beginning of our dinner. As we finished our meal with a couple of espressos, chef André came by our table to say hello and asked about the meal. We asked him about his work experience, being in Singapore, and some of the techniques involved with the dishes. We found chef André to be a thoughtful and engaging person, and asked him to sign the menus for us.
We thoroughly enjoyed the dinner. While chef André didn't work with Thomas Keller, the dinner reminded us of our meals at Per Se - not just with the number of courses, the emphasis on ingredients, and the precise techniques, but also the playfulness of some of the dishes as well as the references to personal history, places, and memories. The meal at Restaurant Andre was certainly the highlight of our trip to Singapore and worth a special journey.